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GOP super PACs buoyed by major donors in January

Marriott International chairman J.W. Marriott Jr. has contributed substantially to the super PAC backing Mitt Romney.

Bloomberg

Marriott International chairman J.W. Marriott Jr. has contributed substantially to the super PAC backing Mitt Romney.

WASHINGTON - A pair of super political action committees supporting top Republican presidential candidates spent nearly $24 million in January, drawing upon major gifts and repeat donations from wealthy business executives, according to financial reports the groups filed yesterday with the government.

The super PACs - Mitt Romney-leaning Restore Our Future and Newt Gingrich-supportive Winning Our Future - raised a combined $17 million last month. That financial strength allowed the groups to hit the airwaves in key primary states with millions of dollars in expensive television ads.

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The groups’ fund-raising offers a periodic glimpse into the identities of the wealthy supporters who will help elect the next president, along with details on how the tens of millions of dollars they donated have been spent this election season.

The reports will probably rekindle criticism of super PACs, which were made possible under a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. Such PACs must legally remain independent from the candidates they support, but many are staffed with former campaign aides who have intimate knowledge of the campaigns’ strategies.

Restore Our Future, which spent $14 million last month, has been boosted by more than two dozen repeat donors. Winning Our Future, which spent $9.7 million, is largely supported by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife.

The super PACs, as well as other groups supporting other candidates and the individual campaigns, were required to disclose how much they raised and the identities of their donors in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by the end of the yesterday. .

President Obama’s campaign last Friday reported raising a combined $29.1 million in January in donations to his individual campaign committee, the Democratic National Committee, and other joint fund-raising committees. Obama has raised a total of $140 million so far in the campaign, and ended the month with $76 million in the bank.

The major super PAC backing Obama, Priorities USA Action, has yet to file its January report.

According to his individual campaign finance report filed yesterday, Romney raised $6.5 million in January for his presidential bid and had $7.7 million cash on hand at the end of the month. But he spent $14 million on an advertising drive in Florida and two other states in January.

The campaign says that since announcing his presidential bid last June, Romney has raised almost $64 million, putting him far ahead of his GOP rivals in fund-raising. His team argues that he is the only candidate with the money and organization to win the nomination and beat Obama in the fall.

Still, Romney spent millions to win the Florida primary and is facing tough contests on Feb. 28 in Michigan and Arizona. On March 6, Super Tuesday, he will have to compete across the nation in expensive contests.

Gingrich’s presidential campaign committee raised $5.5 million last month, and had about $1.8 million in the bank at the end of the month and $1.7 million in unpaid bills, according to his report filed yesterday. Gingrich, who won the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, has now raised a total of $18.3 million for his campaign.

Rick Santorum’s committee reported taking in $4.5 million during January and ended the month with $1.5 million in cash. He raised just $2.2 million in all of 2011.

Ron Paul’s committee said it had raised $4.5 million last month, and had $1.6 million in the bank at the end of the month. Paul has raised more than $30 million in total, second only to Romney.

Yesterday’s reports provided a snapshot of fund-raising for Obama’s early campaign and for Republican candidates as they battled during important primary elections in January.

During January, Gingrich and Santorum had briefly surged ahead of front-runner Romney but trailed the former Massachusetts governor in fund-raising. Since then, Santorum has climbed remarkably in polls as support eroded just as stunningly for Gingrich following his disappointing showing in Florida.

Restore Our Future has been a boon for Romney, who has benefited greatly from the group’s TV ads attacking Gingrich in particular. Such ads were purchased thanks to the financial help of repeat donors, including Marriott International chairman J.W. Marriott Jr., who has given the super PAC $750,000 to date.

The super PAC also reported new donors, including Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman. Romney mentored Whitman, recently an unsuccessful candidate for California governor, during the 1980s at Boston-based Bain & Co., the private equity firm Romney headed. Whitman’s $100,000 check to Restore Our Future came days after she joined Romney at a celebration of his victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Restore Our Future counted on continued support from at least 30 repeat donors who have given a combined $6.6 million in January, according to a review of the reports by the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Winning Our Future’s $11 million in contributions during the same period came almost exclusively from Adelson, a friend of Gingrich’s and a staunch supporter of Israel. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each gave $5 million to the super PAC in January - a move that helped keep Gingrich’s struggling campaign alive.

Other GOP-leaning super PACs reported major contributions.

Endorse Liberty, the group supporting Representative Ron Paul of Texas, reported roughly $2.4 million in donations, including $1.7 from the billionaire founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel of San Francisco.

Thiel, who runs a hedge fund, is a libertarian who has supported Republican causes and candidates and also has donated to California’s marijuana legalization ballot measure.

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